Through the Thick Skin of the Sea in January

The sea was open when I came over to the island, but since there was no wind it felt like it could be freezing any moment. There was no thin layer of ice on its surface yet, but near the shores there was a sort of porous jelly that could turn into ice floes any minute. For a good ice to form it was not cold enough, though. I got a ride across to the island and went to perform, to stand and sit in front of the camera with my dark blue scarf on the hill towards west for the last time. This remake of my weekly performance during the year of the horse 2002, done once a month in 2014 ends here. The year of the goat will commence a month from now, at 19th of February. This remake is like an epilogue to “Animal years”, the twelve years I have documented on Harakka Island 2002-2014. There is a sense of endings in the air in other ways, too. I have bought a new camera and will start to use it for future projects, which means, among other things, that I will no longer be recording on tape. When I look at the small DV tape cover on my table, I can read the dates I have visited the hill and the rock below it: 6 February, 30 March, 12 April, 11 May, 2 June, 14 July, 12 August, 17 September, 11 October, 9 November and 14 December 2014. And now, today, on 19 January 2015.
The book by Laura U. Marks The Skin of the Film – Intercultural Cinema, embodiment, and the senses (Duke University Press 2000), which was recommended to me by a doctoral student who is interested in postcolonial memory, is the only work related to video or film I have recently read. Mark’s idea of haptic visuality is a concept I have long wanted to explore. She focuses on independent films describing diasporic experiences and places the phenomenon of intercultural cinema in a historical postcolonial context. To begin with she also mentions some formal and political precedents like the Third World News Reel tradition or Black British Cinema and describes the infrastructure for funding and producing such films as well as the specific audiences addressed and involved, that is, touched by the actual “skin of the film”. Her idea that many of these filmmakers try to evade objectifying visuality and work with the blurring of vision in order to evoke other senses is perhaps not connected to my work in any obvious way. After all, working with landscape as a view is very much about overlooking the scene and keeping a distance. But the idea of standing in front of the camera in the first image, clothed in a scarf, which covers and hides the landscape behind it, with the image showing mainly the texture of the scarf, might resonate with her ideas of tactility or haptic visuality. As does in some strange sense also the idea of repetition, of returning to the same place, showing the same thing over and over again, trying to grasp what exactly is happening there, waiting for the details of the landscape to come to life. The focus on diasporic experiences in her examples makes the application of her ideas to this work somewhat artificial, but her emphasis on other senses than vision does resonate with my experience of trying to convey the experience of a landscape. Perhaps that is something I should really focus on in the future: to look closer, to forget the view and direct my attention to the details, the small more or less living things everywhere in the environment…
While uploading the material to my computer I took a walk around the island, for the first time in more than a month, and noticed that two big trees in the northwest, a birch and a rowan, had fallen in a storm. And I also saw a thick soup of ice floes floating out through the Uuninsuu or “mouth of the oven”, as the strait between Harakka island and Uunisaari Island is called in Finnish. Where did they all come from, obviously somewhere in the northeast. As long as the stream keeps moving, we will be fine, but if the movement stops the ice might freeze and there we are – or here we are, stuck on the island.
2015-01-19 14.54.55
That was almost what happened. It was completely impossible to move through the ice in a small rowing boat. Luckily Saara came with her strong buster boat bringing her children home from the mainland, and agreed to try to take me across before nightfall. And the ride was exciting, to say the least. She brought me to the Ursula peer, since the skin of the sea seemed thinner in that direction. It was not possible to go around the floes; the soup was too thick for that. So she had to press the boat up on the floes, then back off if they did not break and try again. It was quite an achievement to get me ashore. And walking along the shore I saw her struggling back to her family on the island. I do admire her strength; what brave and tough woman she is.